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Obama hits McCain on Medicare

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
ROANOKE, Va. -- Returning to the issue of health care, Obama used his seventh trip to Virginia in the general election to criticize McCain for proposals that he said would result in $882 billion in cuts to Medicare.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that McCain would cut Medicare and Medicaid funding by $1.3 trillion dollars over the next decade to keep his plan budget-neutral -- based on estimates by independent analysts -- and that McCain's campaign had acknowledged his plan would pay for his health care tax credits in part with savings from the two programs. The paper said the campaign had not given a specific figure for the cuts, but did not dispute the analysts' estimate.

Saying McCain had voted 40 times against protecting Medicare, Obama argued the "drastic cuts" in Medicare proposed by McCain -- at a time when the program is already facing budget problems -- would pay for a plan he argued was ill-conceived and would not provide more health care to people.

The senator went on to list what McCain's proposed cuts in Medicare would mean. "It would mean a cut of more than 20% in Medicare benefits next year. If you count on Medicare, it would mean fewer places to get care, and less freedom to choose your own doctors," he told a mixed crowd of some 8,250 people packed into a convention center on a rainy day. "You'll pay more for your drugs; you'll receive fewer services; you'll get lower quality care. I don't think that's right. In fact, it ain't right."

Obama, who drew his biggest applause when he said every single American "had a right to affordable accessible health care," proposes strengthening Medicare by ending subsidies to big HMOs and allowing the program to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.

The comments coincided with a new TV ad on the subject.

The McCain campaign sent reporters a memo called "The Truth About Barack Obama's Lies About The McCain Health Care Plan," in which his senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said McCain's health-care plan would not result in a tax increase for "millions of families" and said the Arizona senator would reduce Medicare spending by billions without cutting benefits, eligibility, or both as Obama's latest ad argues.

"John McCain believes that we can achieve savings in Medicare without reducing benefits or eligibility. He has proposed common-sense reforms that will not only put Medicare on a path of financial stability, but ensure access to quality care for millions of Americans," read the memo, which listed promoting payment reform, eliminating fraud and abuse, and allowing greater use of generic drugs as some of those methods.

McCain Spokesman Tucker Bounds also sent a statement responding to the speech. "It's absurd for Barack Obama to label John McCain's plans to trim spending for Medicare and Medicaid as 'drastic cuts,' only to then say that his own plans to make cuts will 'strengthen' those programs," the statement read in part. "For Barack Obama to talk about the hope of America and then proceed into misleading and hypocritical accusations only underscores what voters already know: Barack Obama is not who you think he is."

Webb blasts McCain for judgment VP pick
Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher and Sen. Jim Webb introduced Obama, with Webb telling the crowd here that Obama was "like you."

"There's a lot of comments that have been made about certain ethnic issues in this campaign. I would like to say, we know, Barack Obama's father was born in Kenya. Barack Obama's mother was born in Kansas, by way of Kentucky," he said. "We are going to see on Election Day the 14th president of the United States whose ancestry and whose family line goes back to mountains of this area. Barack Obama understands you."

Webb hailed Obama's pick of Biden to be his running mate and questioned McCain's judgment for choosing Palin as his running mate. "John McCain chose Gov. Palin," he said to sustained boos from the audience. "If I were standing here at a McCain rally it would say "Country First." But do you really think that Sarah Palin was the most qualified person in the Republican Party?"

As the crowd chanted "No," Webb said McCain must be second-guessing himself now. "I don't know how many people here like country music; I like country music. There was a song about two years ago, 'I know what I was doing, but what was I thinking?' I think John McCain is probably singing that song right now," he said. "So folks, if you are trying to talk to your friends about clear distinctions in terms of judgment, temperament, vision -- this is something you can really ask them to take a look at."